One by One by One
Pinky Ibarra Urmaza explores ruins as sites of potential from which something else could emerge. Her muse is New York City, where she has lived half her life, as she witnesses its efforts to rebuild after being the epicenter of the pandemic. “Now I see that the city is roaring back to life; it was just in hibernation. It is a town of improvisation, constantly adapting and weathering the trauma and challenges of the pandemic.”
Through deconstruction and reconstruction, she pieces together old book parts broken by age, vintage paper fragments colored with time and other castaways like game pieces, photographs and torn envelopes. She arranges these compositions in grid-like patterns that echo the city planning of New York, with its numbered grids and blocks. In comparison to past works, her collages have become more geometric, akin to the piling up of buildings within a dense city. She draws our attention to the wear and tear of textured surfaces, to frayed edges and rips that evoke resilient grit and layers of history.
In this series, she introduces a brighter color palette to represent hope and optimism. Such palette is evident all over New York infrastructure: the identifying markers of subway routes, the rainbow flags, the murals on crumbling walls and the graffiti under abandoned bridges. There are no human figures in her collages, yet we are keenly aware of the human elements imbued in her narrative. Tiny details give us clues of the artist’s intervention—traces of graphite, ink and charcoal. Urmaza’s subtle touch leave us guessing where material residues overlap with her deliberate additions, much like how repurposed buildings have faint traces of their former functions and decoration amidst more recent renewals. The titles reflect her memories of specific places in the city, her favorite areas and corners. “New York sidewalks have always been a theater for urban life. All those hours of walking along its streets and avenues have given me time to reflect on important parts of who I am. This is where I have experienced loss and have also made new discoveries. Last year, the city became an eerie ghost of its former self, with museums closed for months, subways almost completely empty and Broadway going dark for over a year. Seeing it struggle through this pandemic is like seeing myself pick up parts of me that have drifted away.”
New York City has been in a constant state of reinvention since the beginning of its 400-year history. Its cityscape is an amalgamation of various architectural periods. Just like the artist herself, the city is a sum of its past lives and shifting identities. Winston Churchill famously said, “We shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us.”